Article: How to support employees resuming work after a long leave

Life @ Work

How to support employees resuming work after a long leave

To expect the returning employee to start meeting deadlines from day one is a recipe for disaster.
How to support employees resuming work after a long leave

Employees may need time-off for a variety of reasons. It could be a long medical leave, caring for sick, ailing parents, maternity leave or even a sabbatical. In the absence of this employee, the work should remain unaffected and the team should be comfortable sharing the workload. While many managers are diligent enough to take care of this they forget about the time when this employee returns to work. They overlook the importance of integrating this absent-for-a-while team member. They expect things to go back to normal from day one. But, this attitude of little or no empathy isn’t healthy. 

You need to go easy on the joining back after a break. Don’t rush them or expect deadlines to be met from day 1. Instead, do the following to make the transition smooth for them. 

  1. Check-in on them when they are away

    No matter the reason for their absence, as a manager, empathize and keep in touch. Obviously, don’t make a call every other day (you risk creeping them out!) or email and get impatient for a reply. The communication should be enough to show that you genuinely care for their well-being. Be assured that your gesture of concern won’t go unnoticed. In fact, they would feel valued and would cherish the sentiment. 

    If your teammate is on a maternity leave then you could ask if the team could come and meet them. Or, if they are on a grievance leave then ask first if you can drop by. In any case, the rule of thumb is to never go uninvited. The casual, planned meetings will ensure that despite their absence the entire team still is connected to each other.

  2. Set-up a catch-up session

    Ideally, this meeting should be scheduled a week or two before they resume work. But, before the two of you sit across each other, take time to prepare for this discussion. Ask yourself two very important questions:

    Will they work with the old set of employees (same team dynamics)?

    - Did you hire someone new in your team (change of responsibilities and role)?

    If the answer to both these question is yes then explain the next course of action. Have an open discussion to avoid hurting their sentiments should they come to know about it from someone else. Put yourself in their spot. How would you react to your profile being changed without any discussion with you first?

  3. Give them time to recalibrate to the work environment

    This calls out to you being more flexible. Don’t rush them or set unrealistic expectations, especially if you have reassigned them to a new/different team or project. If they suffered from a medical condition then don’t delegate stressful tasks for a short period. Assign them work which is relatively easier and manageable. After a sufficient period, you can review the workload.

    Give them enough time to recover and settle down. Moreover, decide whether you or someone else (who took over their workload) is going to give them an information download. Ideally, all three of you can sit and talk so that there’s a smooth shift of work. Discuss the working hours as well because they can’t be expected to come to work in full swing after being away for so long.

  4. Ask how they are settling in

    Be observant of how they are keeping up. Take feedback of other team members also. If you see signs of struggle then perhaps talk to them. What’s bothering them? Do they want more work or should the workload be reduced? The point is to keep them motivated to come back to work. If they are stressed about being away for too long then tell them that it takes time to reboot and regain confidence. Show them that you are there to help them out and that they shouldn’t worry about finding their old rhythm at work. Encourage them periodically.

Overall, your role is to provide them support so that they can transition back with comparative ease. Are you up for it? 

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Topics: Life @ Work, Employee Relations

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